Sean McEwan

Troupe Talk: Law & Order: The SVUsical

Law and Order "In the Criminal Justice System, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories."

….those are the opening lines for Law and Order SVU (you know, the TV show).

"At the Dallas Comedy House, the Criminal Justice System is represented by seven separate, yet equally funny people. The Amanda who directs the crime and the comedians who prosecute the audience and make them laugh. These are their stories."

….those are the opening lines (that I just made up because I can, because I blog and stuff) for Law & Order: The SVUsical (you know, the MUSICAL. The musical that you would be a dummy for not catching THIS FRIDAY--and running every Friday and Saturday through August 29 [except Aug. 14-15]--at Dallas Comedy House).

What was the inspiration for writing Law and Order: The SVUsical?

Grant: It was originally pitched by Lauren Davis for an assignment in our Leve 3 sketch class. The assignment was to pair up two things that don't usually go together. She came in with Law and Order: The Musical. After writing and performing a 10-minute version of it, we decided that we needed to elaborate on the idea and make it a full-length show. Susie: What Grant said. Christian: Lauren pitched L&O: The Musical for our sketch 3 show back in April, and we loved it. We did a compressed version in our sketch show and when we were through with that we all said, "Let's make this a real thing!" Now three months later, here we are. Paulos: In our last sketch revue, Fraud City, Lauren Davis wrote a sketch called Law and Order the Musical. It was a big hit, everyone enjoyed it and still brought it up. We knew before we ended that run in March that we were going to do a full-length version. Sean: We really wanted to do a buddy-cop show in the vein of Turner and Hooch, so we came up with the idea to write a musical about Mr. Law and his dog Order. Lauren: Law and Order: The Musical was a sketch I wrote for our sketch 3 class. Amanda: It was a pitch from Level 3. I asked them to pitch two pop culture paradigms that don't normally co-exist. Lauren pitched Law and Order the Musical. It almost didn't make the cut, but it did. They had so much fun with it during the sketch 3 review, Fraud City, we decided to make it a full length musical.

Tell us about the writing process.

Grant: We watched musicals and episodes of Law and Order while writing down patterns that we noticed so that we could exploit them in our musical. After getting a list of characters and beats we knew we wanted to hit, we assigned scenes to everybody and met up the next week to pitch. I remember the first week that we all showed up with songs, and each one was so funny. Once enough songs were written, we just had to write the scenes to connect all of them. We still haven't stopped writing. People add lines here and there every time we run through the script. It's making for a show that is very dense with jokes. Christian: The writing process was much different for this than with sketch. We had to do a lot more conforming to a central story with this, so it took more time to craft that. We had a general story that we outlined our first meeting and then we all took it and kind of ran with it. Paulos: Writing with this group has always been the most frustrating...so much fun and but sometimes frustrating. It's cool, everyone is super talented, and most of the times we were just doing bits and laughing for hours. As far as the script and songs, it was very collaborative. We all edited or punched up everything. Sean: Everyone in this group is a strong writer, and we all trust each other to create great content. At the start of the process, we'd piece apart the different things we needed to write and assign them to different people, and then we'd bring them back to the group and help punch up each other's stuff. This is a group that really fires on all cylinders when it's working together, and we're most in our element when we're creating things with each other. Susie: There's a lot more pressure when writing for a group vs. writing for yourself. Write, edit, write, edit...edit, edit, edit. In fact, I think we kept writing and editing up until last week. Lauren: Like the painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is apparently never ending. Amanda: I think it's still going on...

Let's go behind the scenes. What did a typical rehearsal look like?

Grant: We'd all be outside on the stoop in our jean jackets. Drinking 40s and smoking drugs. Amanda would walk up and as she would unlock the door, we'd throw paper airplanes at her back and high-five each other for making such good paper airplanes. She'd shake her head and know that deep down, we did it out of love. After taking a couple hours to sober up, we'd go over notes from the previous week and run any scenes that had recent changes or trouble areas. Then a full run through with costumes and props, followed by more notes. After cleaning up, we'd go back to the stoop out front and pick up where we left off with our drugs and alcohols. Christian: Rehearsals changed over time as the musical came together. First is was just us trying to block the thing, then trying to remember lines and blocking, and now it's kind of honing and refining everything so it looks good for the show. Paulos: We had some pretty intense rehearsals. Typically groups meet up three hours a week. There were times were meeting up six hours two or three times a week. We're all very committed and also need your approval so we wanted to make something really special. Sean: Early on, it was just all of us sitting around a table coming up with great "what-if" ideas. I'm pretty sure there's about three great sketch shows' worth of content that got left on the cutting room floor. As the songs and scenes got finalized, we started rehearsing on the stage, blocking out the acts, and singing the songs with music. Susie: Six-to-10 hours of nonstop fun! We laugh and joke around a lot. Bits, bits, more bits, and then Amanda steps in and gets us to rehearse. Lauren: Depends on the day. Sometimes we focused on choreography, sometimes running transitions, writing songs, etc. Amanda: The first two months were writing sessions. Super fun. These bozos are really smart. Then we started blocking it in June, and in July we went to twice weekly practices then upped the game to three times a week. We had several rehearsals that were seven-hours long. They were productive, just long. There's a lot to consider with blocking/transitions/choreography/music/props when it comes to a musical, on top of memorizing the content and songs. Honestly, I've seen a lot of drama in theater in the past, but this group was so committed to making this show really fun for the audience, so any time there was tension, we nipped it in the bud pretty quickly. Usually with queso. Or beer. Or hugs.

Favorite memory of the production process?

Grant: Going out to take pictures for our posters was a lot of fun. Getting to see everyone in costume for the first time on top of a high-rise in Dallas. That's not a bad way to spend an evening with your friends. Christian: My favorite part of the whole process was pitching songs at the beginning. I had never written a song for a musical before, so it was a ton of fun writing out the lyrics and performing them in front of everyone at our writers meeting. Paulos: There are a lot to choose from. We've practically lived together for a couple of months writing this. Listening to the songs for the first time was so much fun, and I cried laughing a lot. One night recently, however, we had a pretty long rehearsal and everyone was beat up and tired and we had a group message going where everyone got home and got really excited at like 2 a.m. It was a cool thing, because we were tired but still so much more excited than tired. Sean: Oh, there's so many. One that comes to mind happened a couple of weeks ago. I had been out of town for a week, so I missed some rehearsal time. I came back, and at the next practice, during the run, the whole group did this super intense elaborate choreography that didn't exist before I left...I won't spoil anything, but I was dying. So that was pretty funny. Also, anytime Lauren's giggle box breaks. It's so fun to have someone who takes the show super seriously laughing uncontrollably because of a poop joke. Susie: My memory is shot from all the drinking and rehearsing. I wish we made a documentary of this: "Making of Law & Order: the SVUsical" (because I'm not creative with titles, apparently). We've been in over our heads since day one, but Amanda has always been there to guide us and pick up the pieces. Through the power of friendship, you can do anything! Lauren: Either hearing most of the songs for the first time or the time Amanda ordered us free pizza. Amanda: Honestly, and please don't tell them this, I'm sad I won't be spending all of my Sundays (and Mondays and Wednesdays and Saturdays with these boners). They're all so fun. I love them all equally in different ways. They're really smart, and I love being part of a project where everyone is just so dedicated to putting up good work. The amount of time they've put into this show is kind of unbelievable. I can't wait for it to open and everyone see all of their hard work. It's been an honor to direct them.

Law & Order: The SVUsical runs every Friday and Saturday through August 29 (except Aug. 14-15). 

Tori Oman is a Level Five student at DCH. She’s trained and performed with the Second City and iO in L.A. and Chicago. Favorite pastimes include being irrationally competitive at Monopoly, eating an apple in every country she’s traveled to, and being the sole person on this planet that thinks Necco Wafers are a delicious candy choice.

May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

ashleydoesn'tdieLast weekend, the Maestro returned to DCH. The Maestro is not a man, nor a troupe, but a competitive improv format. For those foolish enough to miss the show, Glenn Smith offers a first hand account of the battlefield. It all started innocently enough. I volunteered to play in this fun little game called “Maestro” on a Saturday night. “It’s a great opportunity to play with new people and experience a new format”, I thought. What transpired was completely different, unfortunately. Although the world of improv is generally known for its supportiveness and for getting each other’s back, I quickly realized that the Maestro I signed up for was actually a bizarre, comedic Hunger Games.

When I walked backstage, I immediately encountered an amazing array of assembled talent, all sharpening their killer instincts by flinging coat hangers at the rafters and cheering lustily when the neck of one would get stuck, as if fastened by a noose. There was the fiendishly handsome Rob Howe, the wily and witty Amanda Hahn, and the agile and fearless Jua Holt, to name a few. Each portrayed a warm inviting smile, but also a subtly sinister twinkle in their eye that suggested their desire to strike at any moment. In my head I could hear Elizabeth Banks’ voice saying “May the odds be ever in your favor” but I knew they would not. As much as I wished to be the Katniss Everdeen in this arena, I knew that I was instead going to be the poor slob from District 9, who would bend over to tie his shoe just as the games begin and get slaughtered by a Cato or Glimmer in horrifying fashion.

The Hunger Games comparison is immediately realized as we begin by being paraded in front of the unruly crowd, and then are instructed to square off in a slow-motion Samurai simulation. This incites bloodthirsty screams from surly spectators. On stage there is a blur of swords, stabbing, and then stillness. Somehow, I am still standing. “Could it be that I actually won?” I say to myself. As that last syllable escapes my lips, I am suddenly sliced from behind by the stealthy Jason Hensel, who celebrates while I slump over on to the stage. He is awarded the first point and I feel my first sting of defeat.

Next we are presented with the promise of attaining points through group scenes based on audience suggestions. The audience seems testy from the cold and rain and, despite host David Allison’s best efforts, they insist on seeing bathroom scenes and people stricken with disease. As I feared, I am not up to the task and my feeble attempt to create a marijuana farmer worthy of admiration makes me the first to be escorted from the stage, along with Jared Berger, whose only fault was simply being too nice a guy for these conditions. Depressed and dejected, I sulk off licking my wounds and prepare to watch my fellow combatants fight the elements and each other.

Jason Hensel and Ryan Callahan valiantly try to make an AIDS suggestion funny, while the audience asks Jua Holt and the sharply-dressed Sean McEwan to take selfies on the toilet. When the warm and wonderful Ashley Bright and her sharp-witted partner, Rachel Hall, are asked to play waitresses at the breastaurant, Twin Peaks, things begin to look dim, but Ashley alertly sees a silver-lining and plays a Laura Palmer angle. She then creates a “special” relationship between the two women and the masses turn in her favor. She ultimately rides this wave into the final, where she eventually wins everyone over with a clever infomercial selling light bulbs, complete with outrageous customer testimonials.

So, as midnight draws near, Ashley Bright stands atop the stage and is crowned victorious as defeated performers flock each side of her and bow with respect. The rumble of thunderous applause fills the room and for a brief moment, everyone is happy and the weather has been forgotten. I drove home and nursed the substantial wounds sustained by my fragile ego and vowed to never do something stupid like that again. Yet, as I reflect on that evening and ponder how fulfilling that moment of victory must be, a twinge of desire resurfaces. Maybe I can endure a few more shots to the heart in hopes of someday being the one leading the celebration. We are not finished yet, Maestro! Not by a long shot!

Glenn Smith is a DCH graduate, who originally hails from Disneyland. He can be seen in Juan Direction and an upcoming, secret Ewing troupe. He likes baseball, martinis, and Pawnee, Indiana.